|Damian Lillard has gone from a two-star high school recruit to the favorite for NBA Rookie of the Year. (bleacherreport.com)|
Damian Lillard is a NBA gem in the making hidden in plain sight.
It's as if the basketball gods were for the right time to unleash Lillard on the basketball world outside of committed NBA junkies. If this season is any indication, Lillard will be a household name very soon.
Geography played a factor. The profile of team did as well. Lillard has played his college and pro career so far on the west coast, where the games are ending as most of the country is in bed. Lillard was a star at Weber State in Utah, a mid-major program with virtually no national recognition outside of the experts talking about him a few months before the draft. Now the 6-foot-3 point guard starts for a struggling Portland Trail Blazers squad that is 15 games below .500. That doesn't give national analysts much to chew on.
Even before college Lillard was overlooked. Good luck finding his name on the Rivals Top 150 list as Lillard was only a two-star recruit coming out of Oakland, Calif., leading him to Weber State.
Regardless of the team, Lillard has excelled, averaging 24.5 points per game his senior year in college before wowing scouts enough to be trusted as the No. 6 pick in the 2012 NBA Draft. Now Lillard is in position to win Rookie of the Year, averaging 19 ppg and 6.5 apg. He's proven he can score at will and take over games, tallying five games of more than 30 points, and two of those coming in the last 10 games. Next will come consistency where he doesn't bounce back from those 30-point games with 10 and 12 respectively like April 12 against Oklahoma City and Tuesday against the Los Angeles Clippers. Lillard has also proven to be durable, logging the second most minutes among rookies this season.
A mid-major point guard putting up this kind of rookie campaign was sure to draw heads, as it has from those who follow the league closely. The question also must be asked if Lillard has this season with a team east of the Mississippi River, even in a city like Detroit, Cleveland or New Orleans and especially at a place like Washington D.C. or Philadelphia, would he be talked about more? Fellow rookie Anthony Davis has had a successful, yet injury riddled, season in which he's averaging five and a half fewer points per game and he's been talked about as much or more than Lillard. He also plays in New Orleans, which has a worse record but gives Davis more national airtime in primetime because of the time zone.
Maybe it was best for Lillard to fly under the radar for so long. The story has been told over and over of highly rated high school and college players not living up to the mountain of expectations laid in front of them. Lillard knows what it is like to be overlooked, and instead of being told he was going to be a future NBA All-Star, he worked on his game away from the limelight to prove it.
The basketball gods have kept Lillard out of the spotlight so far but now he has proven he's ready for the bright lights that come with being a star in the NBA. Lillard is more likely to improve as his years in the NBA continue and when that happens, even geography and team records won't be able to keep causal fans on both coasts from knowing his name.